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The State of Safety in America 2020

Written by | Updated September 22, 2020
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Last Updated: 2 months ago
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America suffers from a big disconnect when it comes to our perception of crime and safety and the reality of what’s happening in our world.

At SafeWise, we’re committed to a better understanding of the gaps and finding proactive safety solutions for individuals, families, and communities. That’s why we conduct the annual State of Safety study. See what other surprising results we discovered.

Nearly 40% of all Americans told us they’ve had a personal experience with either violent or property crime in the past 12 months.*

That’s a 73% jump from 2019.

Numbers like that are startling—especially in comparison to FBI crime trends that show a steady decline in crime.

The FBI reported a drop of nearly 4% in the rate of violent crime across the country between 2017 and 2018 (the most recent year with complete data available).

Despite that downward crime rate trend, our State of Safety report shows a 50% increase in the number of people who told us they’d had a personal experience with violent crime in the past year.

When it comes to property crime, the FBI found a 6% decrease in the rate of property crime, but respondents to our survey reported an 86% increase in their personal experience of property crime.

*Experience with crime self-reported at 38% in the State of Safety survey.

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What is the State of Safety?

Life in the US is supposed to be about apple pies, baseball, and living the American Dream—not stressing about safety. But alarming headlines and devastating acts like mass shootings put a lot of Americans on edge.¹

We conducted the second annual State of Safety survey to find out how concerned Americans are about their safety on a daily basis. Then we compared the levels of fear to actual crime statistics. We also researched how many people are taking precautions to protect themselves and their property.

Details about the study 

  • 5,065 US residents surveyed
  • At least 100 people surveyed in each state
  • Conducted by an independent research marketing firm

Significant findings

  • The percentage of people who reported feeling highly concerned about their safety every day decreased from 58% to 46% year over year.
  • Survey participant reports of experience with crime increased year over year—violent crime experience increased by 20% and property crime experience jumped by 63%.
  • 67% of Americans think crime is increasing across the country.
  • Crime rates have been decreasing for the past 20 years, with property crime decreasing by 28% and violent crime decreasing by 15% in the past decade.
  • 62% of survey respondents harbor high concern about a break-in when no one is at home.
  • Burglaries account for only 17% of all property crime reported across the country.
  • Only 24% of people surveyed use a home security system and 29% don’t use any security measures to protect their property.
  • Physical assault is the most feared violent crime, with 40% of respondents expressing high or very high concern.
  • Aggravated assault is the most common violent crime, comprising 67% of all reported violent crimes in the US, according to the FBI’s most recent data.
perception of crime
daily level of conern

How much does your state worry about safety?

See which states expressed the highest and lowest levels of concern about safety on a daily basis.

Level of concern across the US map showing highest and lowest concerned states

State differences 

  • While the level of concern varies from state to state, concern is highest in the south.
  • These are the most concerned states overall: Alabama, California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee.
  • All of the most concerned states have violent crime rates that exceed the national average of 3.7 incidents per 1,000 people except Hawaii (2.5), New York (3.5), and Ohio (2.8).
  • Tennessee has the highest violent crime rate among the most concerned states, with 6.2 incidents per 1,000 people.
  • All of the most concerned states have property crime rates that exceed the national average of 22.0 except Maryland (20.3), Ohio (21.8) and New York (14.4).
  • Louisiana has the highest property crime rate among the most concerned states, with 32.8 incidents per 1,000 people.
  • These are the least concerned states overall: Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Montana, and North Dakota.
  • All of the least concerned states have violent and property crime rates that are at or below national averages except Montana.
  • Montana’s property crime rate is 25.0 incidents per 1,000 versus 22.0 nationwide.
  • The states that reported the most personal experience with violent crime are Ohio (24%), Alaska (22%), Arkansas (20%), and Louisiana (20%). The national average is 12%.
  • The states that reported the most personal experience with mass shootings are Nevada (16%), Ohio (13%), and Rhode Island (13%). The national average is 7%.
  • The states that reported the most personal experience with property crime are Alaska (44%), California (38%), and South Carolina (37%). The national average is 26%.

Which violent crimes cause the most concern?

To better understand how concerned people are about specific violent crimes, we compared all respondents to specific demographic groups. Women, younger adults, and people with kids at home expressed the highest concern.

"As a woman, I always worry about being followed home and being taken or raped when I go somewhere alone."

Physical assault by a stranger was the most concerning violent crime overall. That aligns with FBI crime statistics that show aggravated assault as the most common violent crime nationwide, accounting for 67% of all violent crimes reported to police.

Perceptions diverge from reality, though, when it comes to the perpetrator of the crime. While most respondents were significantly more concerned about attacks by a stranger (for physical assault, sexual assault, and murder), more violent crimes are perpetrated by someone known to the victim.

Violent crime concerns in US infographic showing concerns across demographic groups

The violent crimes people think are most likely to happen

We wanted to know which violent crimes people think have the highest odds of actually happening. People ranked specific violent crimes based on their perceived chances of falling victim to each one. Below is the percentage of people that ranked each crime as “very likely” to happen.

Infographic showing violent crimes considered most likely across US

Which property crimes cause the most concern?

To better understand how concerned people are about specific property crimes, we compared all respondents to specific demographic groups. Women, younger adults, and people with kids at home expressed the highest concern.

“Even though I live in a rural area, we are seeing break-ins on the rise. [We] have to lock our doors now when we never had to do so in the past.”

Break-ins were the most concerning property crime overall. That doesn’t line up with crime statistics that show burglary comprising just 17% of all property crimes reported to law enforcement in the FBI’s most recent report.² But theft was also highly concerning to survey respondents, and larceny-theft is the top property crime reported nationwide—accounting for 73% of all property crimes reported.³

Property crime concern across US infographic showing different demographics

The property crimes people think are most likely to happen

We wanted to know which property crimes people think have the highest odds of actually happening. Respondents ranked specific property crimes based on their perceived chances of falling victim to each one. Below is the percentage of people that ranked each crime as “very likely” to happen.

Infographic showing property crimes thought most likely to happen across the US

How many Americans have experienced a crime?

Respondents shared their personal experience with property crime, violent crime in general, and mass shootings. We asked if the respondent, or someone close to them, had personally experienced a property or violent crime in the past 12 months.

Regarding mass shootings, we asked if the respondent, or someone close to them, had been personally affected by a mass shooting during their lifetime.

Infographic showing levels of experience with crime in the US; 26% property crime, 12% violent crime, 7% mass shooting

The personal security measures used most often

Find out what security measures people use to enhance personal safety and how often those that use protection carry it with them.

methods used to enhance personal safety
Percentages of people who use personal protection

The property security measures used most often

See which property security measures are used by the groups of people that reported the highest levels of concern about all crime.

Use of property protection infographic

Find the safest cities in each state

Sources

Federal Bureau of Investigation, “2018 Crime in the United States,” September 2019. Accessed March 19, 2020.
SafeWise, “2020 State of Safety,” March 2019. 
Gun Violence Archive (GVA), “Mass Shootings Reports,” Accessed March 19, 2020.
Bureau of Justice Statistics, Quick Tables, “Number of Violent Victimizations By Victim-Offender Relationship, 2014–2018,” generated using the NCVS Victimization Analysis Tool at www.bjs.gov. Accessed March 3, 2020.

Endnotes

1. Mass Shooting Definition
SafeWise uses the GVA definition of a mass shooting: “If four or more people are shot or killed in a single incident, not involving the shooter, that incident is categorized as a mass shooting based purely on that numerical threshold.”

2. Burglary Definition
SafeWise uses the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program definition for burglary: “The unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft.” In addition, the use of force is not required to classify a break-in as a burglary.

3. Larceny-Theft Definition
SafeWise uses the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program definition for larceny-theft: “The unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property from the possession or constructive possession of another.” Examples include thefts of car parts, bicycles, shoplifting, pick-pocketing, or any theft of an item in which there was no use of force, fraud, or violence.

Written by Rebecca Edwards

Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past six. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month testing and evaluating security products and strategies. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her work and contributions in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, HGTV, MSN, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips. Learn more

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